This superb cycling journey was arranged by Jehan and Katie Parsi – a British couple who set up Shergarh, a wonderful camp on the edge of Kanha National Park. The camp is located around the southern side of the tiger reserve in an idyllic village just a few kilometres from the Mukki Gate - which also happens to be the quieter side of the reserve.
The delightful tented camp has only six tastefully decorated tents with en suite facilities, nicely spaced from each other and set in woodlands. As Jehan and Katie spend most of the season there, they can make sure that each guest receives personal attention and is well looked-after.
At the centre of camp overlooking the water reserve is the main house, where their guests congregate to dine and share stories of the day or quietly laze on the veranda.
About eleven years ago Shergarh welcomed Raj as their chief naturalist and who brought a wealth of knowledge from his days at Chitwan National Park in Nepal.
Shergarh is wonderfully situated to take jeep safaris in Kanha, where apart from seeing tiger - which naturally tend to be the main attraction – one may also spot wild dog, sloth bear, gaur and the Asiatic leopard.
The excellent guides here also take guests on walks to an idyllic village nearby to see the original dwellers of the Kanha forest. You can view their mud houses, see farmers harvesting their crops or visit the village school.
Jehan has spent several years exploring the neighbouring countryside, namely Chhattisgarh, and was always fascinated with the idea of offering cycling journeys into the forests and tribal belts of Central India.
I have always been equally interested in exploring these remote and untrammelled areas and what better way than to do it than with Jehan, who has tremendous experience and has been instrumental in setting up such unique activities.
My wish came true when Jehan invited me for a three day cycling safari in February that started from Kanha, cycling through the Maikal Hills to arrive at the beautiful Bhoramdeo Sanctuary.
I arrived at Kanha and as always had the most amazing experience at their camp. Shergarh is a home away from home for most of their guests. Jehan and his team had made sure that the bicycles were in top condition and all en route facilities were thought about carefully, as was the support team.
We embarked on a very special journey early in the morning after a light breakfast to make sure we experienced the scenery in the best light. Initially our ride skirted the forested boundary of the reserve, crossing the scenic Banjar River and into various Gond villages.
After a couple of hours cycling from village to village, we gently cycled in and out of the forest, through paddy fields, and admired the local architecture with houses painted in bright blue with terracotta roofs.
We halted for our first chai break. Most of these villages have their local markets on either Thursday or Sunday, so while planning such a journey I would certainly recommend that you time your stay to fall on either of these days so you could visit the colourful markets.
The five hour journey from Shergarh to our first destination in Supkhar was mainly on gentle terrain. Our delightful forest camp was set up close to a traditional Baiga village. Tents were prepared with cotton mattresses, fresh linen and duvets.
The support team had arrived a bit earlier to make sure that all arrangements were ready for us as soon as we arrived. A delicious local meal was served after which we had time to relax in the comfort of our tents.
There was sufficient time for us to explore the village or simply relax and enjoy the surroundings before nightfall. Evenings were cold but we were extremely comfortable around the camp fire enjoying a bowl of chicken curry and rice, listening to interesting facts about the tribes.
There were umpteen cups of chai offered to us on the way and at the camp. The team made sure that we had plenty of duvets to get some good sleep so that we were ready for the journey ahead of us.
The next morning we set off after breakfast, heading deeper into Gondwana land ‐ the tribal countryside of Chhattisgarh. The route drops into a narrow agricultural valley, flanked by forested hills and inhabited mainly by Baiga hamlets. Absolutely no tourism exists here, and local customs and practices remain prevalent.
We continued cycling along the eastern spur of Kanha Tiger Reserve before arriving at the market town of Chilpi, an important gathering centre for both Gond and Baiga tribes.
We were fortunate to arrive on a Friday as we could visit the market where fresh vegetables and spices are bartered along with local forest produce. Bamboo weavers and potters come to sell their wares and people come to sell their tribal jewellery.
The journey to Chilpi was mainly uphill and it was a great achievement arriving at our second camp.
The final stretch of our ride took us down the Chilpi ghat – a 9km descent through the Maikal hills, entering the Bhoramdeo Wildlife Sanctuary.
Though a part of the journey is on National Highway 12A which links these villages to Raipur the capital of Chhattisgarh, the scenery is outstanding and in a way you get a bird’s eye view while descending from the Maikal Hills.
I am told the views are also spectacular en route in November as the crops aren’t yet harvested and the bright mustard crops bring life to the earthy backdrop.
I was rather fascinated by the final 10 kilometre stretch through Bhoramdeo Sanctuary as you cycle through the forest seeing langurs (monkeys), peacocks and passing by small streams. Although Bhoramdeo hasn’t been declared a tiger reserve, tigers do inhabit the area and there is a healthy population of leopard, too.
Descending further we reached our final destination, Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat, a local farmhouse nestled at the foot of the hills. Satyendra welcomed us to his retreat and from here we walked across to the 11th century temple complex, which exhibits erotic carvings characteristic of the Chandela works of Khajuraho.
The cycling safari was truly a superb experience as every attention was made to ensure we enjoyed the journey. We camped at carefully selected locations with hot water facilities and meals prepared onsite. We saw interesting scenes, experienced local celebrations and were often welcomed to local homes.
Most importantly, we were accepted on an equal footing by the local villagers. Each experience unfolded in its own unique way! I cannot recommend this experience more highly!
For those who are very keen on wildlife, one could combine a cycling safari and a stay in Kanha with Pench National Park which is equally rewarding. What a fabulous combination! Contact me if you would like more information.
Images supplied courtesy of Shergarh Tented Camp